Film Review: “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone” Entertains, Even if it Doesn’t Surprise
Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 4th, 2022
Mr. Harrigan’s Phone (John Lee Hancock, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
John Lee Hancock (The Little Things) and legendary writer Stephen King come together to bring one of King’s novellas to life with Mr. Harrigan’s Phone. Star-studded, with Jaeden Martell (Knives Out) and Donald Sutherland (Moonfall), the film tells the story of Craig (Martell), a young boy who befriends wealthy businessman Mr. Harrigan (Sutherland). Reading to Harrigan after school, learning how to stand up to his enemies, and inevitably buying Harrigan an Apple smartphone, Craig is crushed when his friend passes away. But when Craig receives a text from Mr. Harrigan after his passing, Craig gains a cunning protector against those who do him wrong, including high-school bully Kenny Yankovich (Cyrus Arnold, 8-Bit Christmas).
The first half of the film does excellent work at establishing the heartfelt relationship between Craig and Mr. Harrigan. Utilizing a time period where smartphones are first being introduced to society makes for an interesting social commentary and very timely themes. The elements of the supernatural are both chilling and yet subtle enough not to come across as corny or gimmicky. Hancock and King work well together to deliver exactly what is promised, employing both horror conventions and a lovely premise to add an array of emotions to the story.
Sadly, the thing holding Mr. Harrigan’s Phone back is that the premise goes nowhere original. Hancock’s direction to Martell and Sutherland is by the book, and much of the commentary on society feels on the nose as portrayed through the principal dialogue. The conclusion is satisfying but extremely predictable to the point that one almost feels cheated. And to top it off, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone lacks much of the real suspense that King’s style usually includes. While I enjoy that not all of King’s narrative content is horrifying and filled with terror, it does run the risk—as is the case with this film—of erring on the side of safe storytelling.
While Mr. Harrigan’s Phone’s overall synopsis doesn’t necessarily fail to entertain its viewer, it can clearly be seen as one of King’s lesser ideas, a tale easier told as a work of short-form fiction than dragged out to be a feature-length mediocrity. I enjoy performances by an up-and-coming Martell and Sutherland at his old-man stage of his career, but with a less-than-memorable supporting cast, and an even less memorable execution, Mr. Harrigan’s Phone won’t be leaving the viewer with a sense of true cinematic fulfillment. Inevitably, this film serves to kick off the Halloween season with a few intense scenes, even though it never goes far enough to create true terror.